Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #634

For the last couple of months, I have reserved Wednesdays for reviews of Action Comics Weekly issues featuring a backup story starring Black Canary.  Each installment of Back in Action has looked at Dinah's story and touched on my favorite or least favorite moments from the rest of the strips in these issues.  That ends this week, however, as Dinah's second and final story arc comes to a close.  Her next appearance in the comic--the very next issue, as it happens--will be covered at a later date as a team-up review where she partners with Superman, Green Lantern, and the Blackhawks.

I'm not familiar with George Freeman, the artist behind this week's cover, but it looks to me like a convention sketch given full colors.  Sometimes ACW delivers utterly amazing covers, like the two featuring Black Canary, for instance.  Other times, they appeared rushed and lackluster.  Hal Jordan's face looks awkward, his smile strangely forced.  I think he's drunk and trying to sell a smile without laughing or throwing up.

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 11: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Robert Greenberger.  The final part of Dinah's story is printed third out of the six features in this issue.

At long last, Black Canary has traced the killer back to the theatre where she--the killer, not Dinah--starred in a stage production of Peter Pan.  Black Canary sneaks up to where Cat holds her ex-husband, Ken Glazier hostage in the rafters, ready to drop him to his death.

Black Canary dives for Cat and Ken, but the creaky wooden platform gives her approach away.  Easily sidestepping the Canary's attack, Cat orders Ken to tell the story of what precipitated her murderous quest of vengeance.  She tells him to explain why he and his old associates have been targeted for death over the last couple days.

Ken tells Dinah that the story of his contacting AIDS from Deb was true, but the way he discovered his affliction was when he needed to give his daughter, Dannie, a blood transfusion after an accident.  Dannie got AIDS and died when she was eleven years old.  For cheating and effectively condemning their daughter to a horrible death, Cat will kill Ken.

Canary has one desperate play to save Ken's life.  She taunts Cat with a bag of ashes--Dannie's ashes--that she took from Cat's hideout in the sewer.  Black Canary dumps the bag, spilling the ashes over the platform and down onto the stage.  This defilement of her daughter's memory is enough to make Cat forget about Ken and lunge at Black Canary like a wild animal.

Cat is fast, acrobatic, and full of righteous anger, while Dinah is both sleep- and blood-deprived.  For all her training, Black Canary is exhausted and the killer is fighting with the fierce conviction of a mother protecting the memory at least of her child.  So Black Canary changes her strategy and the battleground.

She grabs a rope and swings to one of the other platforms beside a heavy klieg light.  Cat chases her, but when she nears the second platform, Black Canary turns on the stage light.  Blinded by sudden, harsh light, Cat swings directly into the klieg, dying in an explosion of glass and light.

In the aftermath of the fight, Seattle Police Lieutenant Cameron tells Dinah that Ken Glazier is safe.  He tells her to check in at the hospital to treat her wound.  Dinah gives the lieutenant an urn full of Dannie's ashes.  She back she dumped earlier was a fake to provoke Cat into attacking her.  "A flare for the dramatic," Dinah calls it.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

And so ends the "Knock 'Em Dead" story.  Eleven chapters.  Seventy-seven pages total.  Possibly the best standalone Black Canary story ever published when taken as a whole.  I still can't get over the difference between this tale and the story that proceeded it in ACW #609-616.  "Bitter Fruit" was a solid, fairly conventional mystery with heavy corporate, racial, and political overtones.  But it was a bad comic.  The script was ill-suited for graphic storytelling, the art ill-suited for the ambiguous characters and plot twists.  And it wasn't about Black Canary.  She just happened to be there, and she could have been any private investigator.

"Knock 'Em Dead" on the other hand gets personal early on when a friend of Dinah's is murdered, drawing her into a straightforward murder mystery.  The whys may be kept vague and mysterious until they need to be revealed, but the characters are all pretty well-defined as early as necessary.    Sharon Wright introduces themes of theatricality, disguise, and illusion early on and stays true to them throughout the story.  And Randy Duburke's art just gets better with each chapter.  The panels and character layouts during the action in the final chapters is frenetic, stylistic, and just insane-looking.  But it works.  The battle between Dinah and Cat is all over the place, but never confusing.

And the craziest thing is it's the exact same creative team.  Same writer, same artist, inker, colorist, letterer.  The only difference is in the editor, which is why Robert Greenberger deserves the M.V.P. award for this story.  I don't doubt former Editor Mike Gold's fondness for Black Canary.  He edited her appearances in Green Arrow for years, her first miniseries, and the first issues of her ongoing title in the early '90s.  But she didn't always receive the most flattering treatment in those books, so maybe Greenberger had a better handle on the character.

Or maybe his involvement was minimal after all, and this was just a case of Wright and Duburke finding the story that just worked best for all of them.  Whatever the reason, "Knock 'Em Dead" was a classic Black Canary adventure that deserves to be reprinted and shared with more fans.

The Rest

In Green Lantern by James Owsley and M.D. Bright, Hal Jordan squares off against Lord Malvolio of the Green Flame, who looks like the Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott if Frank Miller drew him for The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  We learn that Malvolio's father was a Green Lantern centuries ago, but Malvolio killed him and took his power.  They fight for several pages and Hal gets the better of him, beating him down and down.  But Hal shows mercy and refuses to kill Malvolio.  When he turns his back, though, the villain draws a gun and shoots Hal's ring, destroying it.

In the final part of The Phantom Stranger's "Cat and Mouse" by Paul Kupperberg and Fred Carrillo,  the Stranger is captured by Tannarak and Tala, servants of the Lords of Chaos.  Doctor Thirteen races to the Empire State Building where Tannarak and Tala are using Phantom Stranger's magics to open a doorway to Chaos.  The giant cat beast is going to kill the Stranger as a sacrifice, but at the last minute, Doctor Thirteen rushes in with a broom... and effectively shoves it up the cat beast's ass, startling it enough that it leaps off the edge of the building.  Phantom Stranger throws Tannarak over the side and the dark sorcerer collides with the cat beast, causing an explosion, because yeah.  Then the Stranger saves Cassandra Craft from the Chaos realm.

In the two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, the Man of Steel was transported to some unknown place while trying to stop an energy beam coming from space.  Now, in a bright, airless space, Superman flies toward a strange machine.  He punches through the side of the machine, fighting off tendril-like defenses and removes something "hot" from inside, all while apparently suffocating.  I'll admit, I'm not sure what was going on in this chapter.  It didn't feel like it connected with anything that had previously gone down in this story.

In the finale to Cherie Wilkerson and Tom Mandrake's story of Nightwing and Speedy, all of the bad guys face justice of some kind.  Sepulveda, the bureaucrat in charge of the CBI who framed Roy Harper is sentenced to prison for working with Lord Danvers, who escapes criminal charges but ends up hanging himself to avoid other scandals.  The fedora wearing Detective Hunter writes a bestselling book about the whole ordeal, and the two Irish orphans, Moira and Button, are adopted and happy.  For their part, Dick and Roy beat up some military police.

Marty Pasko and Rick Burchett wrap up their Blackhawk story in fine, action-packed style.  In the nick of time, Jan snaps out of his LSD-induced hallucinations and saves the plane from crashing.  They track the sexy Nazi woman back to an island fortress.  There is some cool action with the Blackhawks fighting Nazis on plane, on jeep, and on foot, before Jan shoots the lady in the head while ripping a Nazi flag down the center.  Nice symbolism, and a nice climax for this adventure.  There is a caption announcing the upcoming Blackhawk monthly book hitting stands soon.

That's it for Back in Action.  If you want to read the continuing adventures of Superman and Green Lantern I guess you'll have to dig up those issues yourself.  But next week I'll take a look at Green Arrow Annual #2, which features a special Black Canary story written by Sarah Byam, and after that I will finally, finally start reviewing Black Canary's solo comics beginning with her first miniseries!


  1. It might sound crazy but I have enjoyed the murky Sienkiewicz-esque art on both of these stories. Did Duburke do anything else?

    This whole story is a bit dark but I think it works for this Dinah, working in the dingier corners of crime.

  2. As far as I know, Duburke did some backup and fill-in stuff for DC in the late '80s and early '90s. He worked on ARION and DARKSTARS, but he never did anything as high-profile or consistently as his work on ACW.

    I really, really dig his Sienkiewicz style in "Knock 'em Dead". I think the art on "Bitter Fruit", however, suffered for a couple of reasons. The inking and coloring made every face more-or-less look the same, and when you're dealing with a cast of a dozen people without real standout appearances or costumes, they all kind of blur together. This was also the result of the script not identifying people early on.

    I keep coming back to the thought that "Bitter Fruit" would have made a great mystery novel, but it wasn't the best story for a comic. "Knock 'em Dead" on the other hand jumped off the page because the script and art were so superb.

    I also agree that this is a niche of the DC Universe that Black Canary could/should claim as her own. The Private Eye angle. Bendis created ALIAS for Marvel; Dinah--or Birds of Prey--could fill the same area as a street-level mystery book that dips into other realms of superhero life.